The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing is a documentary based on the murder of many thousands of ethnic Chinese, and others deemed to be communists, in Indonesia in 1965-66. The murderers are still alive, have never been tried, and remain significant figures in their communities. The institutional structures which supported these appalling crimes appear to be still intact.

The structure of the film follows one of the main ring-leaders, Anwar Congo, in his daily life now. It also portrays a series of re-enactments of murders, directed by the protagonists themselves. 

Organised human brutality tends to be based around ideologies which dehumanise other people - this is necessary - classifying them as distinct groups, usually premised on ill-defined categories of "enthnicity", "race", "tribe", or "culture". In this instance, it is "communism". Empathy destroys these myths and re-humanises.

This film renders this process bare. The economic and political structure that supports institutionalised brutality is shown with shocking openness. If you watch this film, you will see empathy occurring, or trying to occur, on many levels. It almost seems inescapable.

At the end, Anwar, whose mind haunts him at night in his dreams - where he cannot keep his victims at bay - is almost rejected by his own body, as he experiences only a fraction of the misery he wrought upon others.



From empathy deficit to empathy resurrection

Definitely one of the most extraordinary films I've ever seen. It is almost unbelievable that a group of former gangsters who tortured on behalf of the state were willing to speak so openly about their actions - and then re-enact them for the documentary maker in different genres, from westerns to Godfather-style mafia movies.

In terms of empathy, the film appears to portray the almost total absence of empathy amongst the perpetrators for their victims, who are casually dismissed as 'communists'. But towards the end of the film, Anwar Congo - the key figure amongst the murderers - has a kind of empathic epiphany, almost a resurrection. At one point he is watching on a video screen a scene of a re-enactment of a torture incident he was involved in - with the twist that he is playing the victim. And as he watches he says, 'I can feel what the people I tortured felt.' A few minutes later we see him vomiting, seemingly haunted - even possessed - by the ghosts of his victims.

Profound, original, a work of art, politics and humour (yes, it's very funny at times), The Act of Killing may be the most complete and compelling documentary you will ever see.



Average: 5 (1 vote)
Joshua Oppenheimer
Christine Cynn
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